A Pinellas Sheriff’s deputy who ran over a woman on St. Pete Beach in May has received a written reprimand.
The punishment was the lowest that Deputy Todd Brien, who has been with the agency since 2013, could have received, for violating a Sheriff’s Office performance of duty rule. The maximum punishment would have been a 24-hour suspension, according to a memorandum from the Sheriff’s Office.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Brien had no prior disciplinary history at the agency.
Brien ran over Robin Diffenderfer, then 23, after making a right turn on St. Pete Beach while responding to a 911 call, the Sheriff’s Office said. Diffenderfer sustained injuries that were not life-threatening.
Gualtieri said Brien received a written reprimand rather than a harsher punishment because a reenactment showed that he couldn’t see Diffenderfer laying on the sand from his point of view in the vehicle.
Gualtieri also said Brien’s culpability was reduced because the Sheriff’s Office lacked policies for driving on the sand that could have prevented the incident.
Gualtieri said his agency is developing a new policy for driving on the beach, but declined to discuss specifics, saying the changes are still in the works.
The incident was not the first time in recent years that a law enforcement officer has run over a sunbather on local beaches.
In February, a Clearwater police officer received remedial training after running over a beachgoer’s leg.
In 2020, an Indian Shores police officer ran over a man who was laying on the sand listening to music. The incident prompted the agency to change its policies regarding officers driving on the beach, which included the department using ATVs instead of SUVs for patrol. The officer in that incident was suspended for three days.
Experts said SUVs on the beach can be dangerous for sunbathers. Of the four law enforcement agencies patrolling Pinellas beaches, only Indian Shores broadly limits the use of large police vehicles on the sand.